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10 men complete big win at Villa

Two goals from Rafael van der Vaart made it a three-point Boxing Day yield at Villa Park, but the sending off of Jermain Defoe and a home goal eight minutes from time made it far from a routine evening in the midlands.

Two goals from Rafael van der Vaart made it a three-point Boxing Day yield at Villa Park, but the sending off of Jermain Defoe and a home goal eight minutes from time made it far from a routine evening in the midlands.

That said, it was a fine performance full of excellent possession and slick passing, a performance of great character and eventually defensive stubborness when it was called for.

Wilson Palacios was superb in the centre of midfield and was indeed central to the best attacking and defensive sorties.

Luka Modric was both wily and energetic alongside him, while the return of van der Vaart was obviously welcome and timely.

He was one of two changes from the draw against Chelsea last time out, with Younes Kaboul back alongside Michael Dawson in central defence.

There was considerable danger in the opening minute from a Vills setpiece following a free-kick conceded by Kaboul. James Collins knocked down the free-kick into the path of Marc Albrighton, who forced a reaction save from Heurelho Gomes before squandering the rebound.

The lead looked sure to be taken moments later when Modric picked out Aaron Lennon who, in turn, funnelled the ball through to Defoe. The little striker appeared likely to score but Brad Friedel popped up a hand and somehow put a block on any Defoe celebrations.

Carlos Cuellar then denied Defoe with a last-ditch challenge after van der Vaart played him through with a deft pass. Kaboul did have the ball in the net on 15 minutes, but a van der Vaart free-kick was adjudged to have gone out of the play before Alan Hutton hooked the ball back into play towards the big central defender.

Gabriel Agbonlahor sprinted clear of our central defenders in the next move, a dart cleverly engineered by Emile Heskey. The speedy England striker was twice thwarted by the reactions of Gomes.

On 23 minutes the lead was taken following superb vision from Modric who swept a perfect pass out right into the stride pattern of the accelerating Hutton. The Scot opted for precision and, with possibly a slight deflection, slid the ball into the path of van der Vaart who slotted calmly past Friedel and into the corner of the net.

Five minutes later the chances of Defoe contributing a goal were ended when he was red carded after an aerial challenge with Collins. It really looked a soft decision and Collins was up and unhurt as soon as the red card was brandished by referee Mr Atkinson.

The home fans were thrilled and celebrated by throwing snowballs at Gomes as he was preparing to take a goalkick...

Friedel then saved a Kaboul free-kick before he then pulled off a magnificent save to tip away a Palacios effort that was arrowing towards the top corner after picking the ball up around half way. Friedel won't be credited with the save because Mr Atkinson awarded a goalkick.

The advantage remained intact with 10 men heading into the break, with the team enjoying their best passages of possession.

The substitute Nathan Delfouneso forced Gomes into action in the opening moments of the second half, the same player forcing the goalkeeper into a near post save on the hour after a spell of Villa presssure where the home side appeared to have us boxed in.

The sucker punch came on 67 minutes with a lung-busting run on the counter from Gareth Bale. The brilliant wide man cut inside and unselfishly tried to play in Lennon, who had other ideas. After checking, Lennon picked out van der Vaart who steered his second of the evening into the bottom corner.

Lennon then could have added another but was knocked off course as he was about to pull back his shooting boot, before Gomes foiled Agbonlahor at the other end.

Peter Crouch replaced van der Vaart with 15 minutes remaining, the Dutchman probably tiring after his injury absence. Agbonlahor then forced a fine diving save low to his right from Gomes, who subsequently appeared to suffer an injured hand that caused the game to stop for a couple of minutes.

With eight minutes left of normal time Albrighton embarked on a run down the left before dispatching a teasing flighted ball into the area. Collins lunged at the ball and narrowly missed but the flight of the ball took it straight into the net.

It meant hanging on in the face of big pressure in front of 39,411 at Villa Park in the biting cold.

Bale flashed a free-kick inches wide after Lennon was upended, Lennon being replaced by Jermaine Jenas before play re-started.

Four minutes added time was signalled by the fourth official and there was just one moment of alarm as Eric Lichaj drilled into the side-netting from a tight angle.

That was that though and the players were well worthy of their celebrations on the final whistle as we tucked another three points into our account.

Villa: Friedel; Lichaj, Cuellar, Collins, Warnock; Albrighton, Delph (Pires, 74), Hogg (Petrov, 46), Downing; Heskey (Delfouneso, 39), Agbonlahor. Unused subs: Guzan, Reo-Coker, Clark, Bannan.

Spurs: Gomes; Hutton, Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Jenas, 89), Modric (Corluka, 90), Palacios, Bale; Van der Vaart (Crouch, 75); Defoe. Unused subs: Cudicini, Pavlyuchenko, Kranjcar, Bassong.

Goals: Villa - Albrighton 82. Spurs - Van der Vaart 23, 67.

Attendance: 39,411

Referee: Mr M Atkinson.